Jake’s mom worked at December Nights this year so of course we wanted to go down and see what’s she’s been working on these past few months! She helped organize the vendors in certain areas of Balboa Park and we were able to check out the area she organized, grab some food, and walk around Balboa Park. She also managed to snag us a parking pass in one of the lots near the Aerospace Museum so we didn’t have to walk three miles or take a shuttle. Yay! Jake, T and I decided to head down early so there would be less traffic and less people milling about.




We got there around 11:30AM. Most of the vendors and booths were still setting up so we just walked around and enjoyed the scenery a bit. I haven’t been to December Nights since I was kid (back when it was called Christmas on the Prado). I was surprised to see a carnival area!


We wandered over by the Ruben H. Fleet Science Center. There were a ton of various booths (mostly food) surrounding the fountain. T really wanted a fresh coconut water so we gave him $5 to get one. It was quite refreshing and he got a kick out of the little umbrella in the drink.


One of the booths that caught our attention was this Mexican food booth. Bummer I didn’t take a photo of the name – I do remember they were from LA though.


They were in the process of making fresh pupusas.


They were also making tortillas on the spot. They were just starting for the day.


For whatever reason I saw the rolled tacos and thought they looked quite fresh and ordered those.

Yeah…. they weren’t fresh. I should have known better! They reheated these on the grill and by the time we got to eating them they were incredibly chewy with barely a hint of crunch. Ugh.

Note to future self: Don’t buy rolled tacos from a booth. I should have gotten something made with the fresh tortillas or those pupusas! Sigh. Lesson learned.


We started wandering more and ending up pausing at Suzie’s Gourmet Gifts. They make all kinds of treats, like sparkly cookies, brownie crisps and shortbread. They had samples of shortbread which were completely yummy. I also tried the brownie crisps which were also quite tasty (they taste like crunchy chocolate crackers). I almost bought the glittery shortbread and then I remembered I was planning on making shortbread myself. Hah.


We then strolled through Spanish Village. I loved how decorated it was in this corner of the park!




I thought these mini paintings by Cristiana Brusco were totally adorable.


Time for more treats! There was a line of food trucks right outside of Spanish Village, including the Mangia Mangia truck which we visited.


We were planning on getting more treats from elsewhere and decided on trying out the Meatballs.


The meatballs had a thin coating on the outside and were fried with a stick in it. This made them easier to eat! It was wise to eat these quickly since otherwise the marinara sauce would start to make them soggy. They were good flavor wise, though I can say for sure this is the first fried meatball I’ve ever had. I don’t think the frying was really necessary but it did give the meatballs a little extra texture that I liked. It was $8 for one order though, I’m not sure I’d want them again that price.


T and Jake’s mom went to the Octoberfest in La Mesa this fall and they stopped at this booth: B.T. Express. T really loved their stuff and really wanted to have it again. The owner remembered T and Jake’s mom and urged us to come back, so we did.


Jake and I decided on the Rib Sandwich. It’s on a simple bun with plenty of their housemade BBQ sauce. We all really like the BBQ sauce that they use. The ribs are bone-in, so it makes eating the sandwich a little difficult. But the ribs had a nice flavor to them and they came easily off the bone (but still had a little bit of pull). I’d rather just eat the ribs as is without bread in my way.


T’s favorite is the pulled pork sandwich with the same BBQ sauce. T claims this is “melt in your mouth” tender but it didn’t quite do it for me personally. I was hoping for a little smoky flavor but I wasn’t really getting that from the pork. I think it would have helped, too, if the bun had been toasted. I just thought it was okay.


We also tried the tamales from BT Express but I found them to be way overcooked. The masa was quite dried out and there was not a whole lot of filling in them. I imagine they were cooked awhile ago and them kept warm, which dried them out. Oh well. The owner at BT Express was very kind and very nice – he comped us on the food which he didn’t have to do but it was so nice of him to do that!


After eating BBQ, I wanted a little dessert. I had spied the Shishkaberry’s booth earlier and I knew that’s what I wanted to try. They put strawberries (or bananas) on a stick and dip them in chocolate. You have your choice of milk or white plus there are various toppings that can be added on. I picked the “Nutrageous” one (I don’t remember the exact menu title) which came with almonds all over it.


Here you can see the strawberry peeking out at the top! The strawberries were sweet and the chocolate and nuts made it extra delicious.


After getting our fill of food, we wandered a bit more, going into the Botanical Garden and also checking out a display of Christmas trees.



They had quite a few Christmas trees set up, all with different themes and representations of different countries and states.


This Santa and reindeer set up looks exactly like the one from when I was a kid. I’m sure it is the same one. The reindeer are all scuffed up. It made me feel a little nostalgic.


We watched the carolers sing at the Organ Pavilion for a bit. I know it’s prettier at night with the lights and all, but I didn’t want to wait around until it got REALLY crowded. Pfft. The other bummer? The museums weren’t free until 5PM! What! No museums for us that day.


Our last stop was to wander around the little international houses. For the first time they created tents for the different countries outside of the international houses. I thought it was kind of an odd setup, but considering how crowded it gets in the international houses area I could kind of see what they were going for.


We didn’t buy anything but just wandered around into a few of the houses. Each house has history and photos about their country. Most were selling food of their country inside the house (or they would direct you to their tent). The Philippines have to share their house with France.


The France house had a bunch of yummy looking eclairs, but I passed since I was already full from the treats we had that day.


Viva la France! The little houses were my favorite part of December Nights when I was a kid, so it was fun wandering around in there but it quickly became too congested and way too crowded. And it was only 3PM! Kudos to anyone who ventured out to December Nights at night. It was a lot of fun walking around Balboa Park again for the day – we don’t usually spend much time there anymore. Maybe we’ll make it out sometime to check out free museum day.

8 thoughts on “december nights

  1. The parking permit is the bomb, right? This was my first December Nights! I volunteer at the Fleet and was “working” 5 to 9 and when I went out to wander at 9 what a madhouse! Next year I’ll come early so I can check out the food in peace. The little international houses look interesting!

    1. The parking permit is the BEST. I doubt I’d want to go without it. Parking seemed to crazy pants otherwise. I knew it would be insane once it got dark and that I would be unhappy haha. I love the little houses but that area gets pretty crazy. But it’s fun to see all the different types of food available.

  2. Had no idea you could go before 5! This explains why some of the food was already sold out at 5. Will definitely go earlier next year. Luckily we live walking distance so don’t have to deal with parking but the crowds…eesh.

    1. Yup! It opens at 12pm though not everything is open yet. Museums are not free until 5pm. Lucky you’re within walking distance! I know it gets insane at night.

  3. I was so happy to see this post Mary! I really liked seeing what I missed. We haven’t been to a December NIghts since 2006. It was called Christmas on the Prado back then.

    A few things – great picture of T and Jake! Very nice! Also, the “Nutrageous” stick looked awesome! TC would love that! The fried meatballs looked good too (nice angles on the sticks). Spanish VIllage looked so cute with all the decorations. It was cool to see everything in the daylight as well. We’d always gone at night.

    1. I’m glad someone appreciates this even though the event is over haha. I missed not seeing all of the lights at night, but by the time we left it was getting so busy and crowded that in glad we left early.

  4. I’ve only seen this event at night so it’s nice to see what things look like with sun! I’ve avoided it the last few years because of the crowds! If I’m off Friday next year, I’ll go during the daytime too!

    I’m surprised Mangia Mangia served their lollipops directly in the marinara sauce! These don’t look as good as I remembered… I did a huge review on their deli which apparently closed about 4 months ago *boo hoo*. And pupusas! I have 75% of a post written for a yummy place we visited recently. I might have to try homemade because of all the leftover corn masa from the tamale making party. I bet you’d have good ideas for fillers! 🙂

    1. Hi Lynn! This was my first time seeing it in the sun, too, haha. It’s slightly less appealing, but less crowds are more appealing if you ask me! Normally we would avoid it, too, but Jake’s mom working the event encouraged us to go 🙂

      Yeah, I think the meatballs would be better with the sauce on the side… but maybe they figured it was much easier to serve it this way so they don’t have to buy containers for the sauce. That’s what I figured. Pupusas are so yummy! I’m totally behind reading your blog but I’ll be interested to read about your pupusa adventure! 🙂

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